The appointment of General Bipin Rawat, the current Chief of Army Staff, as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) comes quick on the heels of the historic decision taken by India’s Cabinet Committee on Security on December 24 on the appointment of a CDS, bringing to fruition a matter that has been hanging fire for close to two decades.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced on August 15 the creation of the CDS. He had cautioned that “India should not have a fragmented approach” in regard to the three services. He was referring to the fundamental principle of jointness and integration of the armed forces and the need to ensure that India keeps abreast of global trends in military strategies and is capable of facing new threats and challenges in the multi-dimensional hybrid war scenarios of the 21st century.
The decision to appoint a CDS is a huge step towards achieving seamless coordination and greater effectiveness in higher defence management structures by creating an enabling architecture that permits fuller expression on the part of our professional armed forces. The Kargil War in 1999 may have been a victory for India, thanks to the valour of our armed forces, but it came at a steep cost due to lack of jointness and integration. The Kargil Review Committee’s report in 2000 and the Group of Ministers’ Report of 2001 had recommended that serious steps be taken towards integration of our armed forces.
The momentous decision involves the creation of a new post of CDS in the rank of a four-star general (or equivalent) with salary and perquisites equivalent to that of a service chief. This is the first time in the history of independent India that a uniformed individual will head a government department. The CDS is not a ministerial position. He will be empowered under the Allocation of Business Rules to run his department. The highest form of supervisory mandate that can be delegated to him is at the level of a secretary. The defence secretary and the three chiefs occupy important positions in the government’s pantheon. This will not change when a fourth officer joins as CDS at the four-star level.
Both the defence secretary and the CDS will report to the raksha mantri. If required, the raksha mantri could ask any or all of the departments to give their comments on matters that require a coordinated position to emerge from the MoD.
The key point is that the new CDS will be the head of a newly-minted Department of Military Affairs within the existing architecture of the Ministry of Defence, which already has four departments — Department of Defence, Department of Defence Production, Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare and the DRDO. All matters that are purely military affairs involving the army, navy and the air force, including the territorial army, especially jointness in tri-service matters pertaining to training, transport, staffing, logistics, communications, repairs and maintenance and even jointness in procurement, would henceforth be handled by the CDS.
The CDS will also be a member of the Defence Planning Committee and the Defence Acquisition Council, besides functioning as the military adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority. He would ensure optimal utilisation of infrastructure, facilitate restructuring of military commands including establishment of joint/theatre commands, promote indigenisation and work on “out of area contingencies”. Preparation of strategy papers and rationalisation and reforms in the functioning of the armed forces would be part of his mandate.
The CDS will be dual-hatted. As the permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), the CDS will be expected to promote jointness and integration and be the principal military adviser to the raksha mantri. In the past, this role has been attempted by the rotational chairmanship of COSC by the senior-most chief who often held the post for a short tenure, with no time for in-depth study of tri-service issues and integration. The CDS will now have a tenured appointment up to the age of 65 years.
In General Rawat, the government has chosen a seasoned COAS who, as the senior-most of the three chiefs, is the incumbent chairman of COSC. He has also spearheaded far-reaching reforms in the organisational structure and war-fighting capabilities of the army — the move towards greater integration, speed of decision-making and rationalisation of manpower in the army. The idea of Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) headed by major-generals is expected to do away with the traditional brigade command structure. The existing structure met the requirements of all contingencies in an older age when intelligence and information were not readily available in real-time. The Department of Military Affairs will not only synchronise the expertise and endeavours of the three services but also create harmony and integration between the military and civilian experts.
The rotational chairman of COSC currently commands the only tri-service command in India, that is, the Andaman and Nicobar Command along with other tri-service agencies and organisations such as the Defence Space Agency and Defence Cyber Agency. Nothing prevents the government from changing the structure keeping in mind evolving situations.
The CDS, who will also be the permanent chairman COSC, will not exercise any operational command, including over the three service chiefs. The three service chiefs will continue to retain full command over their services, and give independent military advice to the raksha mantri on matters concerning their respective services. The CDS, in turn, will do what no service chief can do, that is, reconcile the viewpoints of all the three services. This feature will improve his ability to provide impartial advice since his service loyalties will no longer colour his advice. The defence secretary will continue to deal with defence policy, strategy and diplomacy. He will also be responsible for capital acquisitions, defence land, defence accounts, cantonments, border roads, coast guard and a host of other important areas.
The creation of the CDS is part of the fulfillment of commitments by the Modi government on defence matters, starting with the implementation of One Rank One Pension after 40 years, the establishment of the Defence Space and Cyber Agencies as also the Special Operations Division, Make in India initiatives aimed at ensuring an “India First” policy. It is in keeping with India’s aspirations to fulfill its destiny as a major power in the 21st century.
The writer, a former ambassador, has worked in the National Security Council Secretariat and is currently director general of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses. Views are personal